ST. PETERSBURG — The new owner of the Mansion by the Bay house at 145 Fourth Ave. NE wants to build a 12-story, 10-unit condominium project that would rise 150 feet between Presbyterian Towers and Townview Condominiums. It's much smaller than previous owner Dan Harvey's plans for a residential tower, but some neighbors are still unhappy.
"It's going to take away not just the view but our air and our sunshine," said Helga Tiedemann, who has lived in Townview Condominiums for 12 years.
"You can't really fault the developer for wanting to get away with as much as he can, but the city and the zoning commission have to come in with oversight to protect the rights of existing residents," said Gerald Carlson, a Presbyterian Towers resident who is opposed to the building.
The former private investigator and Russian linguist has peppered the city with so many requests for information on the project and codes, including the salaries and education background of zoning officials, that he has been gently warned that he can be charged for time-consuming research requests.
About 100 residents in Presbyterian Towers and the Townview condos will look out at a wall or live in a darker home if the proposed tower is allowed to rise, Carlson and Tiedemann estimated.
The project developer, Robert Allen, said his proposed building is set forward on its lot, so neighbors on either side will not look straight into a wall. He has asked the city for a variance that will reduce the required amount of space between his building and the neighboring buildings. It goes before the city's Development Review Commission on March. 2. The city staff is supporting the variance.
"I can appreciate the perspective of people who have concerns over what's proposed," said city zoning official Philip Lazzara. "We're doing our best to balance the needs of the adjacent property owners with the development rights that apply to this site. … The building footprint is relatively small. While there may be a shadow during certain portions of the day, I don't think it will be a constant shadow."
A 2007 city code requires a building more than 50 feet tall to have a separation of 60 feet between adjacent buildings. It must have a 30-foot setback on each side to achieve this. Allen is asking for a variance to allow the building to have just 7½ feet on either side, saying it is not possible to design a marketable condominium wide enough for stair towers and an elevator on its 80-foot wide lot if 60 feet are used up in setbacks. Lazzara said he thinks it's better to grant the variance so the building will be wide enough for a tower rising up rather than spreading out and using most of the ground space of the lot.
"If their best judgment in 2007 was that a distance of 60 feet is required between two buildings, then how is it that three years later they do an about-face?" Carlson asked.
"Sometimes we have to grant an appropriate amount of relief to address unusual circumstances," Lazzara said. "That's why the variance process exists."
If the building gets a variance, Allen thinks construction would start in 2012, at the earliest. It's too early to say what the 2,300-square-foot units, one on each floor, would cost. He doesn't know what the development would be named yet, but he thinks a "boutique" condominium tower will be distinctive among other downtown residential towers.
"The biggest difference is you only have nine neighbors so there will be more of a cul-de-sac feel to your community," he said. "We're pretty sure we'll have lower homeowner association fees, because there won't be 24-hour concierge service. Also we're not in a flood zone."
Allen hopes to have energy-efficient features such as a system to collect rainwater from the roof and perhaps charging stations in the garage for electric cars.
He and his wife plan to live in the building as well. He is the vice president of finance for JMC Communities, which developed Ovation on Beach Drive, but this is not a JMC project.
After the DRC vote, Allen or the neighbors who oppose the building will most likely appeal the ruling if it doesn't go as they hoped, and then the City Council will vote on the issue.
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.